Pandemic spurs demand for superpremium pet food in Japan

Superpremium pet food in Japan is seeing growth as pet owners there continue to look after their pets' health and wellness.

Old Japanese Woman Feeding Dog

The pandemic has failed to dampen Japan's pet food demand, making pet owners dote more than ever on their furry companions.

Premiumization of pet food in the country is currently on overdrive as more Japanese pet owners upgrade their pets' food from premium to superpremium, with health and wellness concerns becoming their top priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Market reports show segment development

A report on Japan's pet food market development that was shared in February 2021 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA FAS) in their Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) has underscored Japan's growing demand for super high-quality pet food as well as for specialized healthy and therapeutic pet foods labeled as sickness prevention, allergen-free, vitamins/supplements fortified, gluten-free, low in carbohydrates, high in protein and more.

GAIN has provided timely information on the agricultural economy, products and issues in foreign countries since 1995 that are likely to have an impact on U.S. agricultural production and trade. The report's advice to American pet food exporters is to have a ready superpremium product with targeted attributes before entering the Japanese market because it would be very hard to succeed without it.

The United States is currently the second-largest exporter of pet food to Japan with 16.4% of the market led by Thailand (33%) and followed by France (16%). Made-in-Japan pet foods accounted for over 50% of all pet food types in 2019 in volume and the industry expects this trend to continue. In FY2019, Japan's pet food imports equaled 260,000 metric tons (MT) and represented 44% of total domestic pet food consumption (593,000 MT). Japan has had four consecutive years of increased overall value of pet food sales reaching over US$3 billion in FY2019, the report showed.

Business data provider Fuji Keizai estimates sales of premium pet food in Japan to have increased by 3.7% in 2019 compared to 2018 and reached a market value of 72.4 billion yen (about US$687.5 million). A few more years and the numbers could go up to 100 billion yen (about US$951 million), the GAIN report said.

Premium pet foods in Japan are of two kinds: health and epicure. Those that focus on health try to address certain health problems, while the epicure type claims carefully selected ingredients and high palatability. Pet owners associate superpremium pet food with organic, approved and human-grade ingredients, gluten-free, grain-free, low-temperature processed, air-dried, frozen, and custom tailor-made with home delivery support and more.

Coronavirus pet boom

The GAIN report noted that demand for pets in Japan has soared since its government first declared a state of emergency on April 7, 2020. Six months later, the country's pet dog and cat population was approximately 18.13 million. During these months of uncertainty, sales of pet foods reportedly grew 10%–15% as pet owners stockpiled pet foods.

The report said industry experts see these spurts of growth as only temporary because in truth, Japan's overall pet population is declining due to the decrease in the dog population exceeding the increase in the cat population. This has so far resulted in a less than 1% year-on-year decline in the pet food market volume as Japan favors smaller pets that eat less. Sales of large bags of pet food have been affected as pet owners shift to new superpremium products in smaller quantities.

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